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Dublin: 6°C Friday 16 April 2021

Gearoid O’Loughlin ready to raise the Banner at Fairyhouse

With plenty of Clare hurling pedigree, the Cedarwood Road trainer has made an impact in a different game.

Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

TWO YEARS AGO, Easter Sunday 2019, the plan was for Cedarwood Road to make his debut at Quakerstown Point-to-Point and Easter Country Festival.  

His trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin thought that he was a nice horse, thought that he was very well, thought that he would have a real chance of winning.

Derek O’Connor was due to ride Cedarwood Road in that point-to-point, but he rang the trainer the night before the race.  Best not to run him, the rider said.  The ground had gone too quick.  Best not to risk him.  So Cedarwood Road was diverted to a bumper at the 2019 Punchestown Festival.

“I would have loved to have run him at Quakerstown,” says Gearoid O’Loughlin now.  “That would have been great.  Close to home.  Lots of good horses have run at Quakerstown, like Champagne Fever and Bacardys and Next Destination.  It would have been nice if he could have started off there.  But also, we were happy to wait.  Derek thought that the ground had gone too quick for him, and there was no point in taking a risk.”

Cedarwood Road has always been held in high regard by his owner Chris Jones and his trainer O’Loughlin.  When the Stowaway gelding made his debut over hurdles at Fairyhouse in November 2019, he got a bump at the fifth last flight, ripped off a shoe, yet kept on bravely to finish sixth in what turned out to be a very warm maiden hurdle.  Then he went to Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival the following month for another maiden hurdle, and he came home 11 lengths clear of his rivals.

“That was massive,” says Gearoid.  “It was great for Chris.  It’s his local track, he lives just down the road. For him and for his family. It’s where he wants to be, it’s where he wants to have winners.  And it was huge for me as a trainer, a well-bred horse, an impressive winner at Leopardstown, at the Christmas Festival.”

davy-russell-onboard-cedarwood-road-comes-home-to-win Davy Russell and Cedarwood Road come home to win at Leopardstown in 2019. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

First glance, Gearoid O’Loughlin is bred more for hurling than for racing.  A Clarecastle native, his uncle is Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin, a two-time All-Star winner and a key member of the dual All-Ireland-winning Clare team of the 1990s.  His dad Victor also played hurling for Clare, his aunts all played Camogie for Clare, and his aunt Sharon is married to three-time All-Star winner Davy Fitzgerald.

But dig a little deeper, and there are horses in his pedigree too.  His grandfather always kept horses and, ultimately, it was the horses that got Gearoid.

He played hurling when he was younger all right, under 14, under 16, but Pat and John Lynch were just two miles down the road, and young Gearoid quickly figured out that he was at his happiest when he was in there, working with the horses, riding the horses.

“Pat and John were brilliant to me,” he recalls.  “They gave me a fantastic opportunity.  Derek O’Connor started out with John and Pat too.  That’s where I met Derek.  I learned so much there, and I quickly figured out that I wanted to work with horses.”

He took out an amateur licence and rode in point-to-points, he rode point-to-point winners and kicked on.  He worked with Tom Costello and Martin Brassil and Enda Bolger, top class exponents of their profession, and widened his experience.  He started to train a few point-to-point horses of his own, and he had his first winner between the flags when he rode Hello Mr Kelly himself to victory at Ballybunion in April 2011. 

Two years with Jim Bolger furthered his education and honed his skills.  Irish 1000 Guineas winner Pleascach was there during his time at Coolcullen, Rockfel Stakes winner Lucida, Irish Derby winner Trading Leather.  Gearoid ended up running the bottom yard, 32 horses under his care. 

So when he joined Chris Jones at Killeen Glebe Farm in County Meath, initially as assistant to Andy Lynch four years ago, and then as manager two years later, he was equipped with a depth of knowledge and experience that would maximise his chances of success.

Killeen Glebe is a multi-faceted operation.  They source young National Hunt horses for the farm, foals that they can sell as store horses at three or four.  They also buy store horses to race, some staying with Gearoid, some going to other trainers.  You know the colours, the white and maroon stripes that were held before him by Chris’ late father, also Chris, and made famous during the 1990s by Klairon Davis, who was trained by Arthur Moore to win the Arkle Trophy and the Champion Chase and three other Grade 1 races. 

The key is value.  They go wherever the value is.  Cedarwood Road was bought at the Derby Sale in 2018, and he hasn’t gone anywhere.

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“We managed to hold onto this fellow!”

ricky-doyle-with-mitchouka-rebecca-traynor-and-gearoid-oloughlin-after-winning-the-tri-equestrian-handicap-steeplechase Ricky Doyle with Mitchouka, Rebecca Traynor and Gearoid O'Loughlin after winning the TRI Equestrian Handicap Steeplechase. Source: Caroline Norris/INPHO

It’s going well too.  Space Cadet won the Ulster National at Downpatrick last March, and ran well on his debut over Punchestown’s banks in the PP Hogan Chase in February.  He is set to go back over the banks at the Punchestown Festival in four weeks’ time.  Mitchouka won a good handicap chase at Leopardstown last month, and could be a horse for the Galway Plate this year. 

Cedarwood Road himself, who followed up his maiden hurdle win by landing a listed hurdle at Naas last March, was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Gowran Park four weeks ago, and he is set to take his chance in the Grade 1 Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on Sunday. 

“It’s a big step up in class for him, but we don’t have a lot of options.  He doesn’t have a lot of experience over fences, and he has to prove himself, but he is pacey enough to be a good horse, and he stays well.  His dam is a half-sister to Felix Yonger, who was a Grade 1 winner.”

And we’re back to pedigree again.


About the author:

Donn McClean

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